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Melrose: Five most underachieving teams so far

by Barry Melrose

So we're just about one quarter of the way into the current NHL season, and while there is plenty of time for some teams to turn their fortunes around, there are plenty that are coming up short in the expectations department. From where I sit, these are the five teams in the NHL that have underachieved the most so far this season.

Washington Capitals

I think this is the most underachieving team of the year by far. When you look at their lineup, all the moves they've made and the money they've spent, for this team to be among the worst in the NHL is pretty crazy. None of their players are playing well, Mike Ribeiro hasn't been a good substitute for Alexander Semin, and despite their win Saturday night, they just aren't good at anything. Their numbers are bad defensively, they're bad offensively, it's sort of a complete breakdown.

Add into that that the goaltending has been inconsistent and it certainly doesn't help. Braden Holtby was very good Saturday night and Michal Neuvirth has been very good at times, but both have also been very average at times. To the goalies' credit, though, we need to keep in mind that they don't have the New Jersey Devils playing in front of them. Holtby and Neuvirth see a lot of two-on-ones and three-on-twos. That's tough for a young goaltender, and it goes right back to the defensive breakdowns the Capitals have been prone to this season.

I think this may be a culmination of this team changing its identity multiple times over the last four years. They were the best offensive team in the NHL but they didn't win a Cup, so they had to change and be a defensive team. Dale Hunter turned them into a defensive team and that didn't bring them a Cup last season, so now they have Adam Oates here to combine the two methods and that just hasn't happened yet.

At this point I just don't see a reason they're going to turn it around. Yes, Alex Ovechkin scored in their win Saturday, but he just doesn't get chances like he used to. Nicklas Backstrom doesn't look like Backstrom anymore, either, and Mike Green doesn't look like Green anymore. None of them are dangerous anymore. Without those three guys getting back to what they were, I don't see this team turning the corner.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings aren't in as bad of shape as Washington, but they're a struggling team again like they were for most of last season. Jonathan Quick is not an unbelievable goaltender like he was last year right now, they're among the lowest scoring teams in the NHL and their leading scorers have all of six points. It puts you in a bind right off the bat when you know going into a game that you have to win 1-0. I think L.A. thought it was past this sort of thing, but now the team is right back to it.

I've said before that this team needs Dustin Brown to start playing like he did last year, throwing body checks, getting into fights and scoring goals. He's the guy that makes this team go. Yeah, they need Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Mike Richards, but Brown is what makes the Kings go and right now he's sitting with just five points and he's a minus-5. In today's NHL, your stars have to be your best players. They are in Chicago and they are in Boston. In L.A. the guys that carried them in the playoffs last year haven't been doing it so far this season.

Sunday's loss to Detroit was a brutal one and coach Darryl Sutter will try his best to sell them on the positives, that they went into a tough building against a good team and outplayed them and that if they do it every night they'll like the results, but there's no denying this team is struggling. And with most of the players back from last year and the talent they have on this roster, they're also a team with no excuses.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers get a little slack because they had a ton of injuries off the bat with Andrej Meszaros, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere. The crazy thing is that their biggest perceived weakness, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, has been excellent. It does look like they're starting to turn things around, but this team still needs more consistency and it needs more out of Claude Giroux. He has to play like the guy that was so good last year.

You also need to look at the teams in the East. The Devils have been great. The New York Rangers seem to be turning things around. Pittsburgh is obviously solid, Tampa Bay is better and teams like Toronto and Winnipeg aren't free points anymore. The Flyers can't afford to fall too far behind in that conference and expect to catch up. I don't know if this is the type of team right now that can throw five or six wins in a row together with their injuries, but they need to start getting points in the standings and they need to do it consistently.

Florida Panthers

This is a team that looked really promising after last season, but there's just no consistency. They lost five in a row early this season, then they won three of four, and then they lost on Saturday against Washington in a big division matchup. The goaltending has been erratic, the power play that was so good last year hasn't been the same, and guys that were scoring goals and being their leaders offensively have slowed up big time. This team looks like it's taken a step back instead of the step forward a lot of us were expecting.

Their power play is what really confuses me. This power play was awesome last year with Jason Garrison's big shot at the point and Brian Campbell at quarterback. Garrison is really the only guy gone from that power play, though, and unless he did everything last season, they should still have a pretty good power play. If they can combine that with some more consistent goaltending out of Jose Theodore they could still make a playoff run -- they haven't been terrible -- but I think a lot of people thought this team was going to get off to a good start similar to what Tampa Bay has done. That just hasn't been the case.

Minnesota Wild

This is a team I loved at the beginning of the season and picked to win the Stanley Cup, but so far they just aren't playing with much grit and it's costing them. This should be a very good team, but Cal Clutterbuck isn't scoring and Kyle Brodziak, who had 22 goals last season, isn't contributing offensively, either. That's two of their grittiest guys. Devin Setoguchi can also be added to that mix. I think on the whole this is a team that's just gotten several underachieving performances from a lot of players. Zach Parise has done everything he can do, but Ryan Suter, who is a minus-7, hasn't been nearly as good as we all thought he'd be. Add in Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikael Granlund, and this is a team with a lot of offensive weapons that just haven't been producing so far.

They did make an interesting move last week when they acquired Mike Rupp from the Rangers, and I think it'll be a huge help. Rupp is special because he can play with your top guys while still being physical. He can play with Parise or play on the second line because he's good enough to play with those guys for a short period. He also doesn't take many bad penalties, which is valuable if you're filling the role of a tough guy. I think he is someone who can add the grit they've been missing. If he does that, this team will be harder to play against and they can start becoming the team we envisioned.

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